East Coast Main Line

The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a 393-mile long (632 km)[2] electrified railway[1] between London and Edinburgh via Peterborough, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle. The line is a key transport artery on the eastern side of Great Britain running broadly parallel to the A1 road.

East Coast Main Line
An InterCity 125 train on the East Coast Main Line approaching Hadley Wood station and tunnels.
SystemNational Rail
TerminiLondon King's Cross
51.5314°N 0.1234°W / 51.5314; -0.1234 (East Coast Main Line, London terminus)
Edinburgh Waverley
55.9522°N 3.1889°W / 55.9522; -3.1889 (East Coast Main Line, Edinburgh terminus)
OwnerNetwork Rail
Rolling stock
Line length393 miles 13 chains (632.7 km)
Number of tracksDouble track and Quadruple track
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Loading gaugeW9 (via Hertford Loop)
Route availabilityRA 7-9, RA 10 in parts between Selby and York
Electrification25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE
Operating speed125 mph (200 km/h) maximum
East Coast Main Line
Edinburgh Waverley
Newark North Gate
St. Neots
Welwyn North
Welwyn Garden City
Welham Green
Brookmans Park
Potters Bar
Hadley Wood
New Barnet
Oakleigh Park
New Southgate
Alexandra Palace
Finsbury Park
London King's Cross
A detailed diagram of the ECML can be
found at East Coast Main Line diagram

The line was built during the 1840s by three railway companies, the North British Railway, the North Eastern Railway, and the Great Northern Railway. In 1923, the Railway Act of 1921 led to their amalgamation to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the line became its primary route. The LNER competed with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) for long-distance passenger traffic between London and Scotland. The LNER's chief engineer Sir Nigel Gresley designed iconic Pacific steam locomotives, including the "Flying Scotsman" and "Mallard" which achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, 126 miles per hour (203 km/h) on the Grantham-to-Peterborough section.

On 1 January 1948, the railways were nationalised and operated by British Railways. In the early 1960s, steam was replaced by Diesel-electric traction, including the Deltics and sections of the line were upgraded so that trains could run at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). With the demand for higher speed, British Rail introduced InterCity 125 High Speed trains between 1976 and 1981. In 1973, the prototype of the HST, the Class 41, achieved a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) in a test run. In the 1980s, the line was electrified and InterCity 225 trains were introduced.

The line links London, South East England and East Anglia, with Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland and is important to their local economies. It carries key commuter traffic in north London and cross-country, commuter, local passenger services, and freight. Services north of Edinburgh to Aberdeen and Inverness use diesel trains. In 1997, operations were privatised. It is operated by London North Eastern Railway which took over from Virgin Trains East Coast in June 2018.[3]

Route definition and description

The ECML is part of Network Rail's Strategic Route G which comprises six separate lines:[4]

The core route is the main line between King's Cross and Edinburgh, the Hertford Loop is used for local and freight services and the Northern City Line provides an inner suburban service to the city.[5] The line has ELRs ECM1 - ECM9.[6][7]

Origins and early operations

The ECML was constructed by three independent railway companies. During the 1830s and 1840s, each company built part of the route to serve its own area, but also intending to link with other railways to form the through route that would become the East Coast Main Line. From north to south, the companies were:

The GNR established an end-on connection with the NER at Askern, famously described by the GNR's chairman as in "a ploughed field four miles north of Doncaster".[8] Askern was connected to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, a short section of which was used to reach the NER at Knottingley. In 1871, the line was shortened when the NER opened a direct line from an end-on junction, with the GNR, at Shaftholme, just south of Askern to Selby and over Selby Bridge on the Leeds-Hull line direct to York.[8]

Through journeys were important and lucrative for the companies and in 1860 they built special rolling stock for the line. Services were operated using "East Coast Joint Stock" until 1922.[9]

In 1923, in an effort to stem the losses of smaller companies, the Railway Act of 1921 required the companies to amalgamate to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).[10] The LNER was the second largest railway company in Britain, its routes were located to the north and east of London. On 1 January 1948, the Transport Act of 1947 implemented by Clement Attlee's Labour Government, nationalised the LNER and other privately owned railway companies to form British Railways.[11] British Railways managed the ECML as its Eastern Region up to its discorporation in the early 1980s.

Alterations to sections of the ECML's original route have taken place, the most notable being the opening of the King Edward VII Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1906 and the Selby Diversion bypassing anticipated mining subsidence from the Selby coalfield and a bottleneck at Selby station. The Selby Diversion which diverged from the ECML at Temple Hirst Junction, north of Doncaster and joined the Leeds to York Line at Colton Junction south west of York opened in 1983. The old line between Selby and York was dismantled and is now a public cycleway.[12]

The line was temporarily realigned while the ground was stabilised when mining subsidence affected 200 metres of track 17 km to the east of Edinburgh, near Wallyford. The tracks were re-routed as was the overhead electrification equipment and the work was completed in 2000 when the track was returned to its original alignment. In 2001, severe subsidence was discovered at nearby, Dolphinstone[13] and about 2km of track was permanently moved laterally in a gentle curve to avoid a permanent speed restriction in 2002.

The line was worked for many years by Pacific steam locomotives designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, including the "Flying Scotsman" and "Mallard".[14] Mallard achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, having attained a recorded top speed of 126 miles per hour (203 km/h), while traversing the Grantham-to-Peterborough section on the descent of Stoke Bank. To date, the speed record set by Mallard has not been broken.[15]

Diesel era

In the early 1960s, steam locomotives were replaced by Diesel-electrics, amongst them the Deltic, a powerful high-speed locomotive developed and built by English Electric. The prototype was successful and a fleet of 22 locomotives were built and put into BR service for express traffic. Designated the Class 55, they were powered by a pair of Napier Deltic engines that had been developed for fast torpedo boats; the unusual three-crankshaft triangular configuration of the engines was the source of the locomotive's Deltic moniker. Their characteristic throaty exhaust roar and body outline made them unmistakable and distinctive amongst their peers. The Class 55 was for a time the most powerful diesel locomotive in service in Britain, capable of providing up to 3,300 hp (2,500 kW).

In the years following the introduction of the Deltics, sections of the ECML were upgraded for trains running at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). On 15 June 1965, the first length of high-speed line, a 17 miles (27 km) stretch between Peterborough and Grantham, was completed. The next section was 12 miles (19 km) of line between Grantham and Newark and more sections were upgraded to enable high speeds along much of the line.[16]

As the demand for higher speed intensified, British Rail produced a successor to the Deltics, the High Speed Train (HST), which was introduced between 1976 and 1981. Capable of 125 mph (201 km/h), it was a popular and iconic train and remained in passenger service in 2018 after a re-engining programme during the 2000s, in which MTU engines replaced the HST's original Paxman Valenta power units.

In 1973, the prototype HST British Rail Class 41 recorded a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) in a test run the line.[17][18] British legislation required the use of in-cab signalling for running at speeds in excess of 125 mph (201 km/h) and so regular trains services were unable to run at such speeds. The lack of in-cab signalling was the primary reason that prevented the InterCity 225 train-sets from operating at their design speed of 140 mph (225 km/h) during normal service. A secondary factor was that the signalling technology of the time was insufficient to allow detection of two broken rails on the running line.[19]

Before current in-cab regulations were introduced, British Rail experimented with 140 mph running by introducing a fifth, flashing green signalling aspect on the Down Fast line (signals P487 to P615) and Up Fast line (signals P610 to P494) between New England North and Stoke Tunnel. The fifth aspect is still shown in normal service and appears when the next signal is showing a green (or another flashing green) aspect and the signal section is clear, which ensures that there is sufficient braking distance to bring a train to a stand from 140 mph.[17] Locomotives have operated on the ECML at speeds of up to 161.7 mph (260.2 km/h) in test runs. The capability to run special test trains in excess of 125 mph is listed as being maintained in the LNE Sectional Appendix.[20]


In the 1930s, studies were conducted into electrifying sections or all of the ECML.[21] While British Rail considered electrification to be of equal importance to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and ECML during the 1950s, political factors delayed ECML electrification. Instead, investment was in high-speed diesel traction, the Deltic and High Speed Train, for implementing service improvements.[21]

Between 1976 and 1991, the ECML was electrified with 25 kV AC overhead lines, which were installed in two phases: The first phase between London (King's Cross) and Hitchin (including the Hertford Loop Line) was carried out between 1976 and 1978 as the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Project, using Mk.3A equipment[22] over 30 miles in total.[23][21]

A working group of British Rail and Department for Transport officials convened in the late 1970s determined that, of all options for further electrification, the ECML represented the best value by far. Its in-house forecasts determined that increases in revenue and considerable reductions in energy and maintenance costs would occur by electrifying the line.[23] In 1984, the second phase commenced to electrify the Northern section to Edinburgh and Leeds. The Secretary of State for Transport Nicholas Ridley and Minister for Railways David Mitchell played a large role in the decision to proceed.[23]

The programme covered roughly 1,400 single-track miles and required major infrastructure changes, including resignalling the northern part of the line from Temple Hirst junction near Selby to the Scottish border and new signalling centres at Niddrie, York and Newcastle, ten power supply points at key points on the line, and clearance and immunisation activity to protect equipment.[23] The ECML was crossed by 127 overbridges which were adjusted to accommodate the change. It was decided to rebuild individual bridges as opposed to lowering the track or other compromises. Some overbridges, such as the aqueduct near Abbots Ripton, were subject to innovative alterations to accommodate the installation of the overhead lines[23] and oon listed structures, such as the Royal Border Bridge, a specially-developed mast and foundation were used; elsewhere the standard Mk.3B equipment was deployed.[23]

In 1985, construction began on the second phase; in the late 1980s, the programme was claimed to be the "longest construction site in the world", spanning more than 250 miles (400 km). In 1986, the section to Huntingdon was completed, Leeds was reached in 1988 and the line to York was energised in 1989; by 1991, electrification had reached Edinburgh and electric services began on 8 July, eight weeks later than scheduled. Significant traffic increases occurred in the two years after completion; one station recorded a 58 per cent increase in passengers.[23]

Electrification was completed at a cost of £344.4 million (at 1983 prices), a minor overrun against its authorised expenditure of £331.9 million. 40 per cent of the total cost was on new traction and rolling stock and 60 per cent for the electrification of the line.[23] Shirres compared the ECML and later Great Western Railway electrification programmes, noting a 740 per cent increase in cost between the former and the latter; in this respect, the ECML scheme was more cost effective.[23] The infrastructure supported speeds of up to 140 mph on a 3hr 29mins non-stop run between London and Edinburgh on 26 September 1991.[23] British regulations have since required in-cab signalling on any train running at speeds above 125 mph (201 km/h) preventing such speeds from being legally attained in regular service.[19]

In 1989, InterCity 225 rolling stock was introduced on the line.[24][25] They were developed to a competitive tender, to which GEC was awarded the contract.[23] The Intercity 225 sets were used alongside other rolling stock, including Class 90 locomotives and Class 317 electric multiple units. The displaced diesel trains were reallocated predominantly to the Midland Mainline.[23]


The line is mainly quadruple track from London to Stoke Tunnel, south of Grantham with two double track sections, one near Welwyn North Station where it crosses the Digswell Viaduct and passes through two tunnels. The second is between Fletton Junction near Peterborough, and southwards towards Holme Junction. The section between Holme Junction south and Huntingdon is mostly triple track. North of Grantham the line is double track except for quadruple-track sections at Retford around Doncaster, between Colton Junction (south of York), Thirsk and Northallerton, and Newcastle.[26]

The main line is electrified along its full length but the line between Leeds and York (Neville Hill Depot to Colton Junction) is not electrified.[26] This line is in the Transpennine electrification scheme.

With most of the line rated for 125 mph (200 km/h) operation, the ECML was the fastest main line in the UK until the opening of High Speed 1. The high speeds are possible because much of the line is on fairly straight track on the flatter, eastern side of England, through Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, though there are significant speed restrictions because of the line's curvature particularly north of Darlington and between Doncaster and Leeds. By contrast, the West Coast Main Line crosses the Trent Valley and the mountains of Cumbria, with more curvature and a lower speed limit of 110 mph (180 km/h). Speeds on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) were increased with the introduction of tilting Pendolino trains and now match the 125 mph speeds on the ECML.

Tunnels, viaducts and bridges

Major civil engineering structures on the East Coast Main Line include[27][28]

Tunnels, viaducts and major bridges on the East Coast Main Line
Railway Structure Length Distance from Edinburgh Waverley ELR Location
Calton North Tunnel 490 yards (450 m) 0 miles 27 chains – 0 miles 50 chains ECM8 East of Edinburgh Waverley station
Calton South Tunnel 400 yards (370 m) 0 miles 29 chains – 0 miles 47 chains
St. Margarets Tunnel 3 chains (60 m) 1 miles 32 chains – 1 mile 35 chains
Dunglas Viaduct 6 chains (120 m) 36 miles 02 chains – 36 miles 08 chains Between Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed stations
(Former Penmanshiel Tunnel) 12 chains (240 m) 39 miles 52 chains – 39 miles 64 chains
Distance from Newcastle
Royal Border Bridge 33 chains 66 miles 74 chains – 66 miles 41 chains ECM7 South of Berwick-upon-Tweed station
Viaduct 3 chains 66 miles 33 chains – 66 miles 30 chains
River Aln 10 chains 35 miles 50 chains – 35 miles 40 chains North of Alnmouth station
River Coquet 9 chains 30 miles 01 chains – 29 miles 72 chains North of Acklington station
Bothal (River Wansbeck) 9 chains 17 miles 57 chains –  17 mile 48 chains Between Pegswood and Morpeth stations
Plessey (River Blyth) 6 chains 12 miles 23 chains – 12 miles 17 chains Between Morpeth and Cramlington stations
Great Lime Road 3 chains 5 miles 53 chains – 5 miles 50 chains Between Cramlington and Chathill stations
Ouseburn Viaduct 14 chains 1 miles 18 chains – 1 mile 04 chains North of Manors station
Red Barns Tunnel 98 yards (90 metres) 0 miles 70 chains – 0 miles 65 chains
Viaduct 28 chains 0 miles 40 chains – 0 miles 11 chains East of Newcastle station
Distance from York
Viaduct 14 chains 80 miles 04 chains – 79 miles 70 chains ECM5 West and South of Newcastle station
King Edward Bridge 13 chains 79 miles 66 chains – 79 miles 53 chains
Viaduct 4 chains 79 miles 53 chains – 79 miles  49 chains
Chester-le-Street Viaduct 1 chain 72 miles 20 chains – 72 miles 19 chains North of Chester-le-Street station
Chester Moor or Dene Viaduct 10 chains 71 miles 07 chains – 70 miles 77 chains South of Chester-le-Street station
Plawsworth Viaduct 6 chains 69 miles 60 chains – 69 miles 54 chains
Durham Viaduct 12 chains 66 miles 06 chains – 65 miles 74 chains South of Durham station
Relly Mill Viaduct 6 chains 65 miles 23 chains – 65 miles 17 chains
Langley Moor Viaduct (River Dearness) 6 chains 64 miles 39 chains – 64 miles 33 chains
Croxdale Viaduct (River Wear) 9 chains 62 miles 18 chains – 62 miles 09 chains Between Durham and Darlington stations
Aycliffe Viaduct (River Skerne) 49 miles 17 chains
River Skerne Viaduct 2 chains 47 miles 26 chains – 47 miles 24 chains
River Skerne Viaduct 3 chains 45 miles 33 chains – 45 miles 30 chains
Croft Viaduct (River Tees) 6 chains 41 miles 11 chains – 41 miles 05 chains South of Darlington station
Skelton Bridge (River Ouse) 4 chains 3 miles 16 chains – 3 miles 12 chains Between Thirsk and York stations
Distance from King’s Cross
Ryther Viaducts (River Wharfe) 25 chains 180 miles 28 chains – 180 miles 03 chains ECM3 Between York and Doncaster stations
Selby Dam Viaduct 7 chains 175 miles 20 chains – 175 miles 13 chains
Selby Canal Viaduct 2 chains 172 miles 44 chains – 172 miles 42 chains
River Aire 4 chains 169 miles 44 chains – miles 40 chains
Aire & Calder Navigation 166 miles 66 chains ECM2
Balby Bridge Tunnel 95 yards (87 metres) 155 miles 38 chains – 155 miles 34 chains ECM1 Between Doncaster and Retford stations
Bawtry Viaduct 15 chains 147 miles 24 chains – 147 miles 09 chains
River Idle Viaduct 2 chains 138 miles 23 chains – 138 miles 21 chains Between Retford and Newark North Gate stations
Askham Tunnel 57 yards (52 metres) 134 miles 40 chains – 134 miles 37 chains
Viaduct 121 miles 40 chains
Muskham Viaduct 15 chains 121 miles 31 chains – 121 miles 16 chains
Peascliffe Tunnel 968 yards (885 metres) 108 miles 29 chains – 107miles 65 chains Between Newark North Gate and Grantham stations
West Gate Viaduct 105 miles 54 chains North of Grantham station
Stoke Tunnel 880 yards (805 metres) 100 miles 79 chains – 100 miles 39 chains Between Grantham and Peterborough stations
Bytham Viaduct 4 chains 92 miles 63 chains – 92 miles 59 chains
River Nene Viaduct 3 chains 75 miles 68 chains – 75 miles 65 chains South of Peterborough station
Great Ouse Viaduct 3 chains 58 miles 18 chains – 58 miles 15 chains South of Huntingdon station
Robbery Lane Viaduct 23 miles 32 chains Between Knebworth and Welwyn North stations
Welwyn North Tunnel 1049 yards (959 metres) 23 miles 12 chains – 22 miles 44 chains
Welwyn South Tunnel 446 yards (408 metres) 22 miles 31 chains – 22 miles 11 chains
Welwyn or Digswell Viaduct 513 yards (469 metres) 21 miles 60 chains – 21 miles 37 chains Between Welwyn North and Welwyn Garden City stations
Potters Bar Tunnel[29] 1214 yards (1110 metres) 12 miles 00 chains – 11 miles 25 chains Between Potters Bar and Hadley Wood stations
Hadley Wood North Tunnel[29] 232 yards (212 metres) 10 miles 70 chains – 10 miles 60 chains North of Hadley Wood station
Hadley Wood South Tunnel[29] 384 yards (351 metres) 10 miles 39 chains – 10 miles 21 chains South of Hadley Wood station
Viaduct 8 miles 64 chains South of New Barnet station
Barnet Tunnel[29] 605 yards (351 metres) 7 miles 70 chains – 7 miles 42 chains Between Oakleigh Park and New Southgate stations
Wood Green Tunnels 705 yards (644 metres) 5 miles 73 chains – 5 miles 41 chains Between New Southgate and Alexandra Palace stations
Copenhagen Tunnel[29] 594 yards (543 metres) 1 mile 12 chains – 0 miles  65 chains North of King’s Cross station
Gasworks Tunnel[29] 528 yards (483 metres) 0 miles 46 chains – 0 miles 22 chains

Line-side monitoring equipment

Line-side train monitoring equipment includes hot axle box detectors (HABD) and wheel impact load detectors (WILD) ‘Wheelchex’, these are located as follows.[27][28][30]

Line-side monitoring equipment on the East Coast Main Line
Name / Type Line Location Engineers Line Reference (ELR)
Stenton HABD Up Berwick 24 miles 20 chains (from Edinburgh) ECM8
Oxwellmains HABD Down Berwick 32 miles 65 chains
Innerwick Wheelchex Up Berwick, Down Berwick 33 miles 62 chains
Lamberton HABD Up Berwick 54 miles 06 chains
Goswick HABD Down Main 60 miles 66 chains (from Newcastle) ECM7
Newham HABD Up Main 47 miles 08 chains
Stamford HABD Up Main (was on Down Main before Sept. 2017) 40 miles 38 chains
Chevington HABD Up Main 25 miles 48 chains
Longhirst HABD Down Main 20 miles 20 chains
Dam Dykes HABD Up Main (Down Main removed Sept. 2017) 8 miles 45 chains
Plawsworth (Chester-le-Street) HABD Down Main 70 miles 20 chains (from York) ECM5
Littleburn (Durham) HABD Up Fast 63 miles 59 chains
Aycliffe HABD Down Main 49 miles 36 chains
Eryholme (East Cowton) HABD Down Main 38 miles 72 chains
Danby Wiske HABD Up Main 33 miles 50 chains
Sessay HABD Down Slow, Down Fast, Up Fast, Up Slow 16 miles 65 chains
Sessay Wheelchex Up Fast, Up Slow 16 miles 65 chains
Earfit Lane HABD Down Leeds, Down Main 184 miles 04 chains (from King’s Cross) ECM4
Daw Lane HABD Up Main 159 miles 10 chains ECM1
Bawtry HABD Down Main 148 miles 55 chains
Torworth HABD Up Main 143 miles 17 chains
Gamston (Askam) HABD Down Main 134 miles 37 chains
Cromwell HABD Up Main 124 miles 55 chains
Balderton HABD Down Main 116 miles 70 chains
Barkston HABD Up Main 109 miles 56 chains
Stoke HABD Down Main 99 miles 78 chains
Lolham HABD Up Fast, Up Slow 83 miles 33 chains
Holme HABD Down Main 69 miles 28 chains
Abbots Ripton HABD Up Main 64 miles 25 chains
Offord HABD Down Slow, Down Fast 54 miles 07 chains
Biggleswade HABD Up Fast, Up Slow 42 miles 10 chains
Wymondley HABD Up Fast, Up Slow 30 miles 60 chains
Langley HABD Down Slow, Down Fast 26 miles 62 chains

Rolling stock

Commuter trains

Class Image Type Cars per set Top speed Number Operator Routes Built
mph km/h
Class 68 Diesel locomotive 1 100 160 2 Abellio ScotRail Fife Circle Line 2013-14
Mk2 Coach Passenger coach 6 100 160 12 1973-75
Class 158 Express Sprinter DMU 2 90 145 48 Abellio ScotRail Fife Circle Line, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway,
Class 170 Turbostar DMU 3 100 160 34 Abellio ScotRail Fife Circle Line,, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway, 1998-2005
Class 185 Desiro DMU 3 100 160 51 TransPennine Express Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Scarborough 2005–06
Class 334


EMU 3 90 145 21 Abellio ScotRail North Clyde Line 1999-2002
Class 350/4 Desiro EMU 4 110 180 10 TransPennine Express Edinburgh to Manchester Airport 2013–14
Class 365 Networker Express EMU 4 100 161 40 Great Northern London King's Cross to Peterborough, Baldock 1994–95
Class 387/1 Electrostar EMU 4 110 177 29 Great Northern London King's Cross to Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn 2014-15
Class 380 Desiro EMU 3 100 160 22 Abellio ScotRail North Berwick Line 2009-11
4 16
Class 385 AT200 EMU 3 100 160 46 Abellio ScotRail Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line, Stirling / Alloa / Dunblane Lines,
Shotts Line, Carstairs Line, North Berwick Line
4 24
Class 700 Desiro City EMU 8 100 160 60 Govia Thameslink Railway Cambridge to Brighton via London Bridge

Peterborough to Horsham via London Bridge

12 55
Class 717 Desiro City EMU 6 85 137 25 Great Northern London Moorgate and London King's Cross to Welwyn Garden City, Hertford North, Stevenage,
and Letchworth Garden City

High-speed trains

Class Image Type Cars per set Top speed Number Operator Routes Built
mph km/h
Class 43 HST InterCity 125
Short Set
Diesel locomotive 2 x 4
2 x 5
125 200 58 Abellio ScotRail
Hull Trains
Highland Main Line, Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line
Hull Trains Services from London King's Cross to Hull
Mark 3 Coach Passenger coach 185 1975-88
Class 43 HST InterCity 125 Long Set Diesel locomotive
XC: 2 x 7
EMT: 2 x 8
125 200 58
East Midlands Railway

CrossCountry joins the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen
East Midlands Railway operates a limited service of HSTs which joins the ECML at Doncaster and continuing to Leeds
Mark 3 Coach Passenger coach 272 1975-88
Class 68 Diesel locomotive 1 100 160 19 TransPennine Express Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle and Scarborough 2018–19
Mark 5A Passenger coach 5 125 201 52
Driving Trailer 14
Class 91 Intercity 225 Electric locomotive 2 x 9 140 225 31 London North Eastern Railway London King's Cross to: Edinburgh, Leeds, York and Newcastle

(Recently removed from Glasgow Central services)

Mark 4 carriage Passenger coach 302 1988-91
Driving Van Trailer Driving Van Trailer 31 1988-91
Class 180 Adelante DMU 5 125 200 11 Grand Central
Hull Trains
Grand Central Services from London King's Cross to: Sunderland and Bradford Interchange.
Hull Trains Services from London King's Cross to: Hull
Class 220 Voyager DMU 4 125 200 34 CrossCountry Joining the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen 2000-01
Class 221 SuperVoyager DMU 4 125 200 4 CrossCountry XC: Joining the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen 2001–2002
5 20
5 20 Avanti West Coast Services between Edinburgh to: London Euston via Birmingham and Preston
Class 222 Meridian DMU 4 125 200 4 East Midlands Railway East Midlands Railway operates a limited summer Saturday service which joins the ECML at Doncaster and continuing to York and Scarborough 2003–5
5 17
7 6
Class 390 Pendolino EMU 9 or 11 140 (limited to 125) 225 (limited to 200) 56 Avanti West Coast Edinburgh to: London Euston via Birmingham and Preston 2001-04
Class 397 Civity EMU 5 125 201 12 TransPennine Express Edinburgh to Manchester Airport and Liverpool Lime Street 2019
Class 800 Azuma/IET Bi-mode multiple unit 5 140 225 10 London North Eastern Railway London King's Cross to: Leeds, Lincoln Central, Hull, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Aberdeen and Inverness 2019-
9 13
Class 801 Azuma/IET EMU 5 140 225 12 London King's Cross to: Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow Central 2019
9 30
Class 802 AT300 Bi-mode multiple unit 5 140 225 20 TransPennine Express
Hull Trains
TPE: Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle and Edinburgh
HT: Services from London King's Cross to Hull/Beverley


Class Image Type Cars per set Top speed Number Operator Routes Enter Service
mph km/h
Class 802 AT300 Bi-mode multiple unit 5 140 225 9 East Coast Trains East Coast Trains: London King's Cross to Edinburgh 2019-


The line's current principal operator is London North Eastern Railway (LNER), whose services include regular trains between King's Cross, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland. LNER is operated on behalf of the Department for Transport by a consortium of Arup Group, Ernst & Young and SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit and took over from Virgin Trains East Coast on 24 June 2018.

Other operators of passenger trains on the line are:

Eurostar previously held the rights to run five trains a day on the line for services from continental Europe to cities north of London, as part of the Regional Eurostar plan, although such services have never been run.[31]

The overnight Caledonian Sleeper operated by Serco occasionally uses the ECML when engineering works prevent it from using its normal train path on the WCML.

DB Cargo UK, Direct Rail Services, Freightliner and GB Railfreight operate freight services.

In 2019 FirstGroup and Hitachi Rail secured rights from the Office of Road and Rail to run a new ‘open access’ service between the two capitals.[32]


Capacity problems

The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the British rail network and there is currently insufficient capacity on parts of the line to satisfy all the requirements of both passenger and freight operators.[33]

There are bottlenecks at the following locations:

  • The section of twin track within a four-line section at Welwyn North over the Digswell Viaduct and through the Welwyn tunnels[34]
  • The twin and triple-track sections located between Huntingdon and Peterborough.[35]
  • Just north of Newark station at a flat crossing with the Nottingham to Lincoln Line.[36]
  • The section of double track between Stoke Tunnel and Doncaster.[35]
  • Doncaster station has limited facilities for terminating branch trains on the up side of the station. This has been remedied with the opening of a new platform (platform 0) on the up side so that trains to and from the Thorne direction do not conflict with high-speed trains.[37][38]
  • The north throat of York station including Skelton Bridge Junction
  • South of Newcastle to Northallerton (which is also predominately double track), leading to proposals to reopen the Leamside line to passenger and freight traffic.[35][39]

Railway operations are vulnerable during high winds and there have been several de-wirements over the years due to the unusually wide spacing (up to 75 m) between the supporting masts of the overhead lines. The other cost-reduction measure was the use of headspan catenary support systems over the quadruple track sections – as employed in the Weaver Junction to Glasgow Electrification on the WCML during the 1970s. Headspans do not have mechanically independent registration (MIR) of each electrified road and thus are more complex to set up, compared to TTC (two-track cantilever) and portal style support structures, during installation [40]. In the event of a de-wirement of a given road, headspans result in the need to correctly set up the OLE of adjacent roads before the line can reopen to electric traction. This was a result of extreme pressure from the Department for Transport to reduce avoidable costs when the line was originally electrified between 1985 and 1990.[41]

Recent developments

  • The Allington Chord was constructed near Grantham in 2006, allowing services between Nottingham and Skegness to call at Grantham without having to use the ECML, trains now passing under the line. This provided sufficient extra capacity for 12 additional services between Leeds and London each day.[42][43]
  • A new platform at London King's Cross was opened on 20 May 2010. This was originally to be called "Platform Y".[44] Instead it has been named Platform 0 to avoid confusion of lettered and numbered platforms.
  • Connection of the ECML to Thameslink at Belle Isle Jnc. via the Canal Tunnels as part of the Thameslink Programme (for Thameslink and Great Northern commuter services to extend to Brighton, Horsham and Maidstone East).
  • At the southern end of York station a short length of fourth track was installed in early 2011 at Holgate Junction with accompanying OLE and signalling systems. This work helped to remove one of the bottlenecks on the East Coast Main Line. Previously, trains from Leeds would sometimes have to wait before entering the station. The improvement allows for better flow of trains in and out of the station.[44][45][46]
  • Provision of a £47m grade-separated junction to the north of Hitchin (the Hitchin flyover) enabling down Cambridge trains to cross the main line.[44][47][48] The work was completed by 26 June 2013[49]
  • Major remodelling of Peterborough station was completed during early 2014 providing three platform faces for services in the up direction towards London and two for ECML services travelling north on the down lines. An additional two platform faces are also available for Cross Country services to and from stations to the east of Peterborough.[44]
  • A new flying junction just south of Joan Croft level crossing in South Yorkshire to allow freight trains from Immingham to pass over the line on their way to Eggborough and Drax power stations, was completed in very early 2014. The project, known as the North Doncaster Chord, also replaced the level crossing on a minor road with a new overbridge just to the north of the original crossing point.[44][46]
  • Renewal and gauge enhancement of the Great Northern and Great Eastern Line which runs parallel to the ECML between Peterborough and Doncaster. This removes freight traffic from a heavily congested section of the ECML.
  • A new Rail operating centre (ROC), with training facilities, opened in early 2014 at the "Engineer's Triangle" in York. The ROC will enable signalling and day-to-day operations of the route to be undertaken in a single location. Signalling control/traffic management using ERTMS is scheduled to be introduced from 2020 on the ECML between London King's Cross and Doncaster - managed from the York ROC.
  • An £8.6 million redevelopment of Newcastle station was completed in 2014 enhancing the existing station and provide a state-of-the-art station for thousands of passengers.[50]
  • Provision of a new Up bay platform (Platform 0) at Doncaster station (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
  • Platform extensions at Stevenage, Grantham, Newark North Gate, Northallerton, Durham and Edinburgh Waverley stations for the Intercity Express Programme.
  • Linespeed enhancement on the down slow line in the Fletton area (part of the ECML Connectivity programme) completed in March 2019.

Planned or proposed developments

Most of the length of the ECML is capable of 140 mph subject to certain infrastructure upgrades. Below is the foreword of the Greengauge 21 report:

"Upgrading the East Coast Main Line to 140 mph operation as a high priority alongside HS2 and to be delivered without delay. Newcastle London timings across a shorter route could closely match those achievable by HS2."[51]

The European Union Directive 96/48/EC, Annex 1 defines high-speed rail's minimum Speed Limit as 200 km/h (124 mph) on existing lines which have been specially upgraded.[52] The ECML can become a high-speed operational line.

Over the years successive infrastructure managers have developed schemes for route improvements.[26] The most recent of which is the £247 million "ECML Connectivity Fund" included in the 2012 HLOS[53] with the objective of increasing capacity and reducing journey times. Current plans include the following specific schemes:

  • King's Cross throat remodelling to improve capacity and introduce higher speed turnouts reducing journey times.
  • Power supply enhancement on the diversionary Hertford Loop route
  • Additional turnback facility at Gordon Hill (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
  • Additional down platform and turnback facility at Stevenage (part of the ECML Connectivity programme) - now delayed from CP5 to CP6.
  • Re-quadrupling of the route between Huntingdon and Woodwalton (HW4T) which was rationalised in the 1980s during electrification (part of the ECML Connectivity programme). This also involves the closure and diversion of a level crossing at Abbots Ripton which was approved in November 2017.[54]
  • Enhanced passenger access to the platforms at Peterborough and Stevenage.
  • Werrington Grade Separation: A £200 million scheme to increase capacity north of Peterborough station by constructing a dive under to route rail traffic between the Stamford Lines and the GNGE line, thereby avoiding at-grade conflicts on the ECML. The project was approved in summer 2018 and groundwork construction started in September 2018.[55]
  • Replacement of the Flat Crossing at Newark with a flyover (scheme developed to GRIP Stage 2 by Jacobs)[56]
  • Upgrading of the Down Fast line at Shaftholme Junction from 100 mph to 125 mph and higher speed associated crossovers (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
  • Modified north throat at York Station to reduce congestion for services calling at Platforms 9 - 11 (part of the ECML Connectivity programme)
  • Freight loops between York and Darlington (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
  • Darlington station up fast line platform and future station remodelling as part of HS2.
  • Fitment of TASS Balises and Gauging/Structure works proposed by the open operator GNER (Alliance Rail) to enable tilt operation of Pendolino trains north of Darlington station, supporting its aspirations for express 3hr43min London to Edinburgh Services.

And on a more route wide basis the following projects:

  • Power supply upgrades (PSU) between Wood Green and Bawtry (Phase 1 - completed in September 2017) and Bawtry to Edinburgh (Phase 2), including some overhead lines (OLE) support improvements, rewiring of the contact and catenary wires, and headspan to portal conversions (HS2P) which were installed at Conington in January 2018.
  • The line between London King's Cross and Bawtry, on the approach to Doncaster, will be signalled with Level 2 ERTMS. The target date for operational ERTMS services is December 2018 with completion in 2020[57]
  • Level crossing closures between King's Cross and Doncaster: As of July 2015 this will no longer be conducted as a single closure of 73 level crossings but will be conducted on a case-by case basis (for example, Abbots Ripton Level Crossing will close as part of the HW4T scheme).[58]
  • Increasing maximum speeds on the fast lines between Woolmer Green and Dalton-on-Tees up to 140 mph (225 km/h) in conjunction with the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme, level crossing closures, ETRMS fitments, OLE rewiring and the OLE PSU - est. to cost £1.3 billion (2014). This project is referred to as "L2E4" or London to Edinburgh (in) 4 Hours. L2E4 examined the operation of the IEP at 140 mph on the ECML and the sections of track which can be upgraded to permit this, together with the engineering and operational costs.[59]


The ECML has been witness to a number of incidents resulting in death and serious injury:

Title Date Killed Injured Note
Welwyn Tunnel rail crash9 June 186622Three-train collision in tunnel, caused by guard's failure to protect train and signalling communications error
Hatfield rail crash (1870)26 December 187083Wheel disintegrated causing derailment killing six passengers and two bystanders
Abbots Ripton rail disaster21 January 18761359Flying Scotsman crashed during a blizzard.
Morpeth rail crash (1877)25 March 1877517Derailment caused by faulty track.
Thirsk rail crash (1892)2 November 18921043Signalman forgot about a goods train standing at his box and accepted the Scotch Express onto his line.
Grantham rail accident19 August 19061417Runaway or overspeed on junction curve causing derailment - no definite cause established.
Welwyn Garden City rail crash15 June 19351429Two trains collided due to a signaller's error.
King's Cross railway accident4 February 1945226Train slipped on gradient and rolled back into station.
Potters Bar rail crash10 February 1946217Local train hit buffers fouling main line with wreckage hit by two further trains.
Doncaster rail crash (1947)9 August 194718188King's Cross to Leeds train was incorrectly signalled into a section already occupied by a stationary train, which resulted in a rear-end collision.
Goswick rail crash26 October 19472865Edinburgh-London Flying Scotsman failed to slow down for a diversion and derailed. Signal passed at danger
Doncaster rail crash16 March 19511412Train derailed south of the station and struck a bridge pier.
Goswick Goods train derailment28 October 19531'Glasgow to Colchester' Goods train was derailed at Goswick.[60][61]
Connington South rail crash5 March 1967518Express train was derailed.
Thirsk rail crash31 July 1967745Cement train derailed and hit by North bound express hauled by prototype locomotive. DP2
Morpeth rail crash (1969)7 May 1969646Excessive speed on curve.
Penmanshiel Tunnel collapse17 March 19792Two workers killed when the tunnel collapsed during engineering works.
Morpeth rail crash (1984)24 June 198435Excessive speed on curve.
Newcastle Central railway station collision30 November 198915Two InterCity expresses collided.[62]
Morpeth rail crash (1992)13 November 19921Collision between two freight trains.
Morpeth rail crash (1994)27 June 19941Excessive speed led to the locomotive and the majority of carriages overturning.
Hatfield rail crash17 October 2000470InterCity 225 derailed due to a failure to replace a fractured rail. The accident highlighted poor management at Railtrack and led to its partial re-nationalisation.
Great Heck rail crash28 February 20011082A Land Rover Defender swerved down an embankment off the M62 motorway into the path of a southbound GNER Intercity 225, which then was struck by a freight train hauled by a Class 66
Potters Bar rail crash (2002)10 May 2002770Derailment caused by a badly maintained set of points. Resulted in the end of the use of external contractors for routine maintenance.

Passenger volume

The cuttings and tunnel entrances just north of King's Cross make a memorable smoky appearance in the 1955 Ealing comedy film The Ladykillers.[63] Also during the 1950s, the line featured in the 1954 documentary short Elizabethan Express. Later, the 1971 British gangster film Get Carter features a journey from London King's Cross to Newcastle in the opening credits.[64] During 2009, the motoring show Top Gear featured a long distance race, in which LNER A1 60163 Tornado, a Jaguar XK120 and a Vincent Black Shadow competed to be the fastest vehicle to travel the full length of the line from London to Edinburgh.[65]

The route has been featured in several train simulator games. Trainz Simulator 2010 features the route between London and York, Trainz Simulator 12 extends the route to Newcastle, and Trainz: A New Era brings it all the way to Edinburgh, allowing the entire 393-mile route to be driven. All three routes take place during the 1970s, around the time the InterCity 125 was introduced; this is reinforced by instructions in the "HST Southbound Express" session not to move until the guard has locked the doors, since the trains did not have pneumatic locks initially; doing so will lead to an automatic failure. Other rolling stock includes Class 37s, Class 47s, and Class 105s, plus Mark 2 coaches. TS12's version added Class 55 Deltics and Class 313s, as well as additional pre-made, pre-scripted sessions.

King's Cross Station is also known as the starting point of the Hogwarts Express from the books and films of the Harry Potter franchise. This connection is marked by a tourist attraction within the station concourse, featuring the Platform 9¾ sign and a luggage trolley partially embedded in the station wall with an owl cage and suitcases on it.[66]


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